Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
US STRIKES SYRIA
Removing Syrian President Assad is now a priority for the US, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told CNN’s Angela Dewan yesterday.
Drop support for Assad or face further corrosion of US-Russia relations, Trump officials demanded of Russia yesterday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster saying that Russia should be pressed to disclose what it new ahead of last week’s chemical attacks since it has had advisers at the airfield from which the chemical weapons were launched since 2015. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
The US will hold anyone who commits crimes against humanity responsible for their actions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said today from Italy, where he is to meet foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major industrial nations. Crispian Balmer and Steve Scherer report at Reuters.
Russia has failed to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into back in 2013, Tillerson said during an interview with ABC broadcast yesterday, Rebecca Savransky reporting at the Hill.
Tillerson’s comments come ahead of his visit to Moscow this week, when he will press Russia on why the Syrian regime was allowed to stockpile chemical weapons nearly four years after the 2013 plan to eliminate the weapons which placed responsibility for doing so on Russia, Felicia Schwartz and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.
Statements by the Trump administration intimating that the removal of President Assad was no longer a US priority “probably” contributed to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during an interview broadcast yesterday, Rebecca Savransky reporting at the Hill.
US STRIKES in SYRIA: INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
“The aggression against Syria oversteps all red lines.” Russia, Iran and allied forces including Hezbollah issued a statement yesterday warning of their “ability to react” to the US missile strikes on a Syrian airbase last week, Al Jazeera reports.
G7 ministers meeting in Italy today are aiming for a unified approach to pressure Russia to end its support for Syrian President Assad, host Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano saying that Europe’s broad support for the US strikes in Syria had contributed to a “renewed harmony” between the US and its European partners ahead of this first meeting of the G-7 foreign ministers since President Trump took office. [AP]
Britain has “no real influence” internationally, Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement in response to Foreign Minister Boris Johnson’s cancelation of a scheduled visit to Moscow over its support for the Assad regime, Al Jazeera reports.
The UK is discussing how it can put more pressure on the Assad regime and its supporters with international partners, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said today. [Reuters]
Trump’s strikes on Syria were also designed to intimidate North Korea, the state-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times claimed, Tom Phillips reporting at the Guardian.
The US strikes were “an unforgivable act of aggression” that reinforced its need to maintain a nuclear arsenal, North Korea’s government said, while experts speculate that China will now have to take more seriously Trump’s threat to go it alone on North Korea, Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell write at the Financial Times.
US STRIKES in SYRIA: LEGALITY of the STRIKES
That the US’ intervention in Syria arguably does not rise to the level of a war is one important factor omitted by those who have pointed out the constitutional requirement of congressional authorization for the US to go to war in the wake of the intervention. Akil Alleyne argues that Trump’s strike on Syria was constitutional at the Hill.
US STRIKES in SYRIA: MEDIA REACTION and OPINION
Trump will enter the very morass that as candidate he warned against if he now widens his aims in Syria, the history of US interventions in foreign wars telling us that conflicts are much easier to begin or escalate than to end. Steve Coll worries that Trump will become not only a dangerous wartime president but an ambitious one at the New Yorker.
The home context. In striking Syria, President Trump was motivated by a desire to contrast his own reaction his predecessor Obama’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria and to show that he is not beholden to the Russians. Mary Dejevsky looks at the domestic effects of the US strikes for Trump – and for his Russian counterpart Putin – at the Guardian.
The US has an essential role to play in what may be the “final, epic battle” to decide the future of Syria, anticipates Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.
The “buzz” of the US’s first direct strike on the Assad regime is starting to wear off, with administration officials seemingly disagreeing on the next step, and analysts worrying that the strike is a dangerous escalation with no coherent strategy behind it, writes Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.
Firing missiles at a half-empty air base does not make up for a lack of foreign policy expertise or a strategy for dealing with the Middle East, and in fact probably demonstrates that President Trump will push America further into the fighting, despite his campaign promises, write Samuel Moyn and Stephen Wertheim at the New York Times.
The “rally-around-the-flag” effect. Acts of war can themselves be used as political weapons, writes Charles M. Blow at the New York Times, examining President Trump’s insistence that retaliating against Assad’s chemical weapons attack was in the “vital national security interest of the United States,” an example of America and the wider world’s tendency to be “wishy-washy” about which atrocities deserve responses and which don’t.
The expansive justifications for the air strikes increase the prospects of mission creep, and the broader the Trump administration’s goals in Syria, the more susceptible to pressure to escalate there it will be, Colin H. Kahl writes at the Washington Post.
Assad’s forces probably carried out the chemical attack out of desperation, according to US military and Syrian rebel officials, and worse may be yet to come. Roy Gutman points out that the reason for Assad’s gas attack has been lost among the intense coverage of the incident and Trump’s response at The Daily Beast.
Last week’s sarin attack was a “chilling demonstration” that former president Obama’s deal with Assad to surrender all of his chemical weapons did not succeed, and underscores the danger of trying to do deals with dictators, writes Peter Baker at the New York Times.
Fact-checking former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice’s claim that Obama got Syria to “verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.” Glenn Kessler examines Rice’s “problematic” claims in a Jan. 16 interview with NPR at the Washington Post.
TRUMP CABINET RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep Adam Schiff (Calif.) rejected a call for his recusal yesterday by former Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who accused him of disclosing classified information during his statements on the committee’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Colin Wilhelm reports at POLITICO.
Is the White House scapegoating Michael Flynn? Speculates Lachlan Markay at The Daily Beast, noting that having pushed the former national security adviser out, it seems to be adding insult to injury by publishing more about his misfiled financial disclosures than is necessary.
The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
White House Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland has been asked to step down from her post and take up a new role as US ambassador to Singapore, according to an administration official, Abby Phillip reporting at the Washington Post.
Deputy Trump assistant Sebastian Gorka who is vying for the position of special envoy to Libya has pushed a plan to partition Libya and once drew a picture of how he envisaged the country being split into three areas on a napkin during a meeting with a senior European diplomat, whose response was that it would be “the worst solution” for Libya, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.
Trump’s appointments have so far resulted in a much more conventional foreign policy approach than expected – with personal quirks layered on top – Annie Karni discussing Trump’s foreign policy shake-up that wasn’t at POLITICO.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier has been rerouted toward the Korean Peninsula amid concerns over possible new weapons tests by North Korea, Dion Nissenbaum and Jonathan Cheng report at the Wall Street Journal.
The deployment of the US aircraft carrier strike group toward the Korean Peninsula was a “prudent” move, White House national security adviser H. R. McMaster said yesterday, Colin Wilhelm reporting at POLITICO.
President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to “further cooperation on a range of regional issues, including the threat posed by North Korea” when they spoke Saturday, the White House said yesterday, Mallory Shelbourne reporting at the Hill.
Tougher sanctions on North Korea if it carries out further nuclear or long-range missile tests were agreed between China and South Korea today, Ju-min Park and Nobuhiro Kubo reporting at Reuters.
Two Islamic State-claimed bomb attacks on Egyptian churches during Palm Sunday services left at least 47 dead Sunday, Dahlia Kholaif and Tamer El-Ghobashy report at the Wall Street Journal.
A three-month state of emergency was declared by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi last night following the attacks, Hamza Hendawi reports at the AP.
President Trump has “great confidence” in Sissi’s ability to “handle the situation properly,” the President said last night, joining the international condemnation of the bombings. [AP]
Sunday’s attacks put Sissi back on the defensive after his “triumphant” visit to President Trump where he was hailed as a bulwark against Islamist violence, write Magdy Samaan and Declan Walsh at the New York Times.
Two relatively minor charges against the five defendants in the 9/11 trial at Guantánamo Bay were dropped Friday after the military judge accepted a defense argument that the statute of limitations had run out, the AP reports.
Rear Adm. Edward Cashman became the first Trump-era Guantánamo Bay prison camp commander Friday, where 41 captives currently remain. Carol Roseberg reports at the Miami Herald.
A US special-forces soldier was killed in a combat mission targeting the Islamic State in Afghanistan, the US military confirmed yesterday, Jessica Donati reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
An attempt to assassinate the newly-installed commander of Somalia’s army by a suicide bomber left at least 10 other people dead yesterday, Hussein Mohamed and Mohamed Ibrahim reporting at the New York Times.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the military to reinforce areas in the South China Sea controlled by Manila was to maintain the geopolitical balance, he said today, assuring China that no “offensive weapons” would be placed there. [Reuters]
A Russian teenage asylum-seeker was arrested in connection with an explosive device discovered close to a subway in Norway’s capital Oslo but defused before it could detonate, the AP reports.